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Why GDC 2015 will be a glimpse into PC gaming's future

Hayden Dingman | March 2, 2015
Heart racing. Vision a bit blurry. Head starting to ache prematurely. Stress rising. Palms are sweaty. Knees weak. Arms are heavy. There's vomit on my sweater alread--wait, where were we? Oh yeah, I'm pretty stressed, which must mean GDC is right around the corner.

RIP Steam Machines. We barely knew ya.

Presumably we'll see the introduction of new living room PCs running SteamOS, Valve's Linux-based operating system that revolves around Steam's Big Picture mode. Somehow.

What I do know: The hype surrounding Steam Machines has never been lower. When Valve first surfaced the idea, anti-Windows 8 fervor was high and new consoles were still imaginary. Now both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are coming into their own and Windows 10 looks like a suitable gaming upgrade to Windows 7. The reasons to buy a Steam Machine (or whatever it's called) are much thinner. Valve will really need to pull off something amazing to regenerate hype.

On the other hand, Valve will supposedly debut a final (or at least updated) version of its Steam Controller.

The hybrid touchpad/gamepad device was originally planned to be central to the Steam Machine concept, but hopefully the final iteration will work with Windows too. This will be the first time we've gotten our hands on a Steam Controller since last year's GDC, so I'm looking forward to it.

Baby, you can drive my car

For tech nerds, expect a lot of intricate news about graphics APIs coming out of GDC. Yes, it's time for your yearly dosage of terminology like "closer to the metal," "amortizing," "swizzled resources," and more.

Like last year, Microsoft will have a huge DirectX 12 presence at GDC with multiple panels focused on both the API and Windows gaming in general. The most important is probably a session given by Xbox head Phil Spencer on Wednesday titled "The Future of Gaming Across the Microsoft Ecosystem." Presumably this will also discuss some of the Xbox/PC cross-compatibility Microsoft's currently exploring (e.g. streaming Xbox One games to the PC).

DirectX 12 quietly sneaked into the Windows 10 Technical Preview earlier this year, but it's currently useless without drivers and software to support it. DX12 is designed to give developers more granular control over hardware capabilities, eliminating CPU bottlenecks to improve performance and power efficiency.

No less important however is the announcement of glNext, the successor to open-source graphics API OpenGL. While not as popular as DirectX on Windows systems, OpenGL is what powers gaming on Linux and Macs. We know nothing about glNext yet, but personally I'm hoping it's more compatible with DirectX 12 — if only so porting games from Windows to Linux is easier. With Valve (a known Windows detractor) officially sponsoring the glNext announcement panel, it seems likely this would be true. For Steam Machines to take off, you'd certainly think glNext would need to be competitive with DX12's capabilities.

 

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